Gunsmith Training: Pistolsmithing- Week Four, by R2

This week I finished up the AGI Gunsmithing course on Pistolsmithing. There were a few surprises.


I’m finding that the ten hours of video per week just isn’t going to be feasible for much of the course. If I’m dealing with firearms that I am already pretty familiar with, a single pass through the video is usually enough to get me going on the finer points. However, if the course is covering a firearm that I am not all that familiar with, and especially if I can’t find that model (or a similar model) of firearm to put my hands on, things slow down quite a bit. The Colt Python that was covered this week is a prime example.

While I own a S&W Model 686 and had access to several others, I could not obtain a Python. In order to fully understand the weapon, I had to watch and re-watch much of the video multiple times.

That is certainly sub-optimal, but I’m sure, at some point, I will come across one. When I do, I will probably take the video out and re-watch it yet again as I go over the firearm. In the meantime, the video is all I had to be able to answer the questions on the test.

Single Action Revolvers

Colt Python

Next up in the course was the venerable Colt Python. This has to be one of the toughest double action revolvers there is. They are designed well, and the parts just don’t fight themselves like they do on the Smith & Wesson series. Sadly, the Python has been discontinued by Colt. However, there were so many built and they are so loved by those who own them, they will be showing up for a long time in shops.

In his usual dry (PC incorrect) humor, Bob described the difference between the S&W DA revolvers and the Colt Python:

The S&W is like a fine, beautiful city woman. She looks really good, is dressed finely, but is considered high maintenance. You always have to fiddle around with it to keep it at its best, because it’s finicky. The Python, on the other hand, is like a stout Russian woman working the farm. It works all day without a complaint, year in and year out. It is about as reliable as can be, but when it finally quits because it’s sick, it is really sick. (My paraphrase of his words).

The colt is designed so well that it just really works. However, when it comes into the shop, it is usually in serious need of help. All of the parts are interrelated to the others, and changing one dimension to fix a problem will certainly cause other problems. Bob walked through the process of which part to adjust first and then followed the cascading changes that take place with the repetitive iterations that you have to go through. Sometimes, you just don’t have much adjustment available and if you perform the steps in the wrong order, you end up ruining the part, requiring the replacement.

Other DA Revolvers

Also covered in this section were the Colt Trooper 3, Charter Arms, H&R, Iver Johnson, High Standard, and the Ruger LCR. These revolvers were covered fairly quickly with the instructor pointing out the obvious differences and similarities with what had been covered before.

In all, the revolver sections were very informative to me, probably because I was mostly unfamiliar with them. I did struggle in many parts to grasp how parts were fitting together and how things were working. Yet, I do feel like I walked away with much knowledge. I’m confident that I can deal with most problems that present on revolvers, though I’m sure I will be reviewing the videos as I come across the individual handguns.

The Test

Once I had completed the pistolsmithing section, I logged onto the AGI site and downloaded the testing materials. My plan was to have a physical copy of the test in hand to actually answer the questions. After completing the test, I would log on to the online testing site and simply transcribe my answers to the system. This allows me to have instant feedback upon the completion of the test as well as the ability to print the certificate on my own printer.

The First Surprise

I had already taken one of their tests (the introductory test) and was prepared for the fact that many of the questions would not be directly addressed by the DVDs. I was prepared to interpolate answers based on things that I had learned. What I was not prepared for was the difficulty of the test. I was able to answer only about a quarter of the questions just from memory. On some questions, I remembered the subject matter being covered, but the answers just didn’t jump out at me.

The AGI tests are designed to be “Open DVD”, and they tell you that right up front. This only makes sense. You don’t have an instructor breathing down your neck as you test, and there is no one to keep you “honest” other than yourself while you are testing. If you could just rewatch the videos and get all of the answers by simply fast forwarding to the section where the subject is talked about, you wouldn’t really be learning. There were some questions that I was able to do that with, but most of that type of question had already been answered in my first pass on the test questions.

Experienced Tester

I consider myself an experienced tester. I thought I had pretty much seen it all in the realm of testing. Starting in kindergarten, I’ve had 25 formal years of schooling with another 10 years of continuing education, not to mention all of the individual coursework that I have taken over the years. I estimate that I have the equivalent of nearly 38 years of schooling and test taking. I know how to test. I’ve been on the receiving end of the tests and on the design end of them. I was expecting something similar to what I have experienced in the past.

AGI Tests

Nope. Not happening. AGI’s tests were very different. Gene Kelley tells you right up front in the introductory system that their goal is to teach you “Design, Function, and Repair” (DFR). I’m going to have to say that this course delivers on that claim. I’ve only been through the pistolsmithin section at this point, but I understand firearms better that I ever have before. The AGI tests are specifically designed to test you in that realm. If you don’t truly understand how the firearm works, you are not going to be able to fudge your way through the test.

There were many questions in the form of “A customer brings you a firearm and tells you that <x> is happening. What are the two most likely causes of the malfuntion?” The test then gives you multiple choices including the feared “all of the above” and “none of the above” answers. If you don’t fully understand how the firearm was designed to function, you will not be able to answer the question.

Standard Test Taking Skills

After you have taken thousands of tests, you generally figure out how multiple choice tests work. Usually, there are four or five answers. One or two of the answers will be obviously wrong. One or two of the answers will make at least some sense and there is usually only one right answer. If you simply rule out the obviously wrong answer, you can usually logically work through the rest to obtain the right answer. If you can’t get there, you can at least narrow your odds on guessing the answer this way. The AGI tests seem to be specifically designed to keep that sort of guesswork from working. Most of the time, all of the answers are at least related to the problem.

I’m Stuck

AGI isn’t trying to trick you. The answers are there, and they truly want you to get them right. They just don’t want you to breeze through the course, claiming you learned a bunch when you actually slept through the DVDs and then guessed the answers on the questions. If you get to a point where you just can’t answer a question no matter how many times you re-watch the DVD, just give them a call. Jack Landis is an easy guy to reach, and he’s very personable. He won’t just give you the answer, but he’ll lead you in the right direction until the lightbulb turns on in your head. They want you to succeed, and they want you to learn.

My Impressions of the Test

In all, I’m impressed with AGI’s ability to deliver quality instruction via DVD and the ability to keep the testing challenging. When I spoke with Gene last week, he encouraged anyone who thinks that their course isn’t serious to download one of the tests and take it. Just see if you can pass it. You may just be as surprised as I was on how difficult the test is.

See Also:

The American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is a DVD/distance learning educational source that specializes in gunsmithing. They offer programs in professional and practical gunsmithing, welding, machine shop including instruction on the lathe, vertical mill and general machine shop. In addition to the complete gunsmithing course, they also offer informational DVDs on specific firearms and armor’s courses for some popular firearms. If you are interested in taking any of the courses or just learning about them, you can request information online or just call them at 1-800-997-9404.


    1. Good insights about testing. Most every Baby Boomer who has tested knows the tricks and work-arounds of multiple choice questions (I have absolutely no idea how or IF kids are tested these days…might make them feel “disincluded” or hurt their self esteem).

      My wife was a professor of nursing in the midwest, and started her students out from day one developing critical thinking skills, which are the backbone of a nurse’s practice. There was no guessing on her exams, she patterned them on the NCLEX, the exam every student must pass to become licensed.

      She taught to three levels: General knowledge, usually multiple choice; analysis and application, which may or may not be multiple choice; and the most difficult which require you to apply facts, processes and rules in order to answer them.

      All contain some right and wrong components. The questions are phrased as “which is the BEST answer.” It’s well nigh impossible to guess, as only a thorough knowledge of the systems, interrelations, conflicts and standards of care can give you the most suitable outcome.

      These open questions made up over 95% of her tests and none of her students ever failed their NCLEX on the first attempt.

      When she was in the hospital, many of her former students wanted to care for her. They all told her in one way or another how grateful they were for her tough approach. In the real world no one cares how well you can guess on a test- its about how you perform.

  1. Excellent series.

    I often wonder how many government school career councilors have asked, ‘Have you considered becoming a gunsmith?’ Yea right…

    It might be common in the Redoubt but even here there seems to be a shortage of gunsmiths.

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